In the long, cold build up to Christmas, Holland saw the tragic
demise of its great sporting hope: Sport 7, the Netherlands’ first cable
soccer channel. Despite a much trumpeted launch and backers of the
highest quality, Sport 7 collapsed in December amid the cries of
bickering shareholders and greedy football clubs. It was a sorry end to
an all too brief life.
The channel had suffered since its birth in August. Cable operators in
Amsterdam put the station into their premium rate, cutting viewing
figures and scaring off advertisers. By October, viewing was falling
from 4 to 3 per cent and ad revenue was sticking firmly with free-to-air
Part of the problem, according to Jan Timmer, head of the Sport 7
supervisory board, was that the Dutch government had insisted that the
public broadcaster, NOS, be allowed to show highlights of matches. He
explains: ’Under political pressure, the channel had lost important
aspects of its exclusivity.’
Then, as if that wasn’t trouble enough, during the autumn the Dutch
football association, KNVB, witnessed the leading Amsterdam-based club,
Ajax, and Rotterdam’s Feyenoord, challenging its authority to block sell
football rights for all the clubs in the league. A high court agreed and
Feyenoord considered selling the rights to its own home games
separately. This was the final nail in the coffin for Sport 7 and, last
month, the shareholders voted to declare the company bankrupt.
Far from being a small war with no Britons killed, this is an issue
likely to have ramifications throughout the world of sporting rights. As
more and more UK soccer clubs seek plc status and are forced by
shareholders to find the best cash deal available for the club not the
league - and as clubs like Manchester United consider setting up their
own cable stations - it may not be long before the Premier League faces
similar insurgency in its ranks. If the top five teams follow the Dutch
example of pulling out of block negotiations and then finding their own
best deal, what will happen to Sky Sport?
Top Dutch companies like Philips, the banking group, ING, the country’s
largest newspaper group, Telegraaf Holdings - even the KNVB itself -
were shareholders in the channel.
This was enormously humiliating for the Dutch business community. The
rights are up for sale again, although there is fierce bickering over
who can actually sell them.